Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Just before I turned 25 something clicked for the better. I'm suddenly freer, more confident, ready to face the world and I dont care what people think anymore. I have a greater understanding of who I am as a person, and what I want to do in life. I'm still not sure what exactly I'm going to do next, but overall I know what I want, and I feel I have acheieved what I came here for - independance, confidence etc, and have picked up some maturity and greater understanding of things along the way.
Fascinating as this, I'm craving some kiwiana right now. I feel like going down to the local pub where I grew up, wearing my gumboots, have a good kiwi beer with some other farmers, watch some good rugby, go home and watch john cambell read out somekiwi news, then read an interesting kiwi newspaper, and see the beautiful sea, sun and bush.
Isnt it funny how indoctrinated (brainwashed, propagandized) we become to NZ tv, advertising, cultural icons etc, without noticing - and how you miss it when your gone. It's like an IV drip of familiarity. Brands and shops and billboards that were part of daily life have been replaced by odd cartoonish british advertising characters and unfamiliar slogans are presenting themselves to me on signs everywhere, and even billboards and tv and things like that are different. Much like my blog post a while back about stores that still look like they did 50years ago, it is funny to walk into a store like WHSmith (Whitcoulls) or a department store like farmers and see worn/threadbare carpet, dirty old lino or even fake wood boards covering the floor. Much like the roading in this country, which is OK but hasnt had an upgrade in how long (and i never see any roadworks) and pavements have loose pavers that rock under your foot or the uneven edges that trip you up.
Its a different way of life obviously, but I look at british people hopping on buses and the tube and wonder what it would be like growing up living in this city and having catching public transport with your friends be the norm. After a year I still cant quite get that so much of the working class catches buses everywhere and relies on public transport and some dont even have their liscence! I can clearly see there's no need to drive in this city, but as a culture whos main aim is to own your own car and drive everywhere at 16, and from a country that hates catching buses, its very different.
Theres also something else i've noticed. Very often the roads and footpaths will be damp - wet enough that everything is dark and shiny with water. But never enough water that there's any puddles or running water anywhere. And this happens so often its unusual enough for me to mension. England really is a damp country. I know the mist and frequent rain of Scotland & Ireland is worse but england is more often than not, damp. Yes, and overcast, but that goes without saying. Its strange because you never see it rain. But some mornings and most evenings, everything is damp.
Theres also little things that are different, like all the doors in the UK lock themselves when you pull them shut. Not a door handle in sight people, not 1! Our door for example you have to pull the door shut by holding the letter box hole. Our front door has a handle, but still no doorknob. One of my flatmates pointed that out the other day- thanks for the interesting addition.
Something I noticed the other day was that everything is more about security here. Picnic tables chained to the wall of their pub, security guards in every single office building, security walls infront of every shop... it feels like a computer with no administrator rights - you walk down the street and literally cant get away with anything, everythings strapped down and bolted!!
Thats my thoughts on things this week. I wanted to give you something to picture the UK by, and wanted to give myself some thoughts and memories to look back on.
There will be more from me soonish.
Sunday, 8 February 2009
Money. According to the visa rules, you need to have £2000 pounds in your UK bank account sitting in the UK by the time you arrive. I did do that and found it was a decent amount of money to see you through the first few months. I was reasonable and didnt spend too much initially. Some people get right into going out and spending a lot of money and waste all their savings but if you are sensible you can make it last a few months. You will be thankful for what you can save because I dont know of anyone who can save much in london.. Of course rent/bond take a chunk out, but when the tube is £20-30 a week and grocerys £20-30 a week, and you can have a decent night out on £20 (if you buy cheap drinks and dont take cabs) you can make it last.
Job. For myself and many others, it takes about a month to get a job here. If you get one sooner, then your lucky, but if it takes longer, make sure you have that money sitting there to make sure your not flour-bag poor before you get a job. Register with recruitment agencies 1-2 months before leaving home and get your name and CV on every job site and agency you can find. I met with 6 recruitment agencies once arriving in the UK and spent a couple of weeks trekking around the city going to agency interviews. If you can find something or even get a promise of interviews or jobs before arriving, do it, and be prepared to spend hours in the internet cafe (or on your laptop) applying for jobs - and make sure you've got money on your phone to ring the agencys back!!
Flat. I was lucky enough to have a friend that was moving out as i was arriving so I could take her bed. It was the best thing in the world after spending 2 whole days in an economy class seat to be able to go straight to my new home, put down my stuff and have a cup of tea. Being half dead with jet lag and being completely lost, it was great. So do have an arrival plan and somewhere to stay initially. Dossing/couch surfing is popular and a cheap option. A hostel may be just as good but if you can get a flat sorted before you come, do so -then you dont need to move twice.
NHS. This is the National Health Service. It's a free service which means you get as much quality and respect you'd expect from something free. You should register with a doctor when you arrive. I registered with the centre just down the road from me. You need a UK address to register somewhere, so wait until you know where your living until you do this. And just stay healthy and dont hurt yourself until you have a doctor! They told me 'wait two weeks to see if you will be accepted', but i was anyway. Enjoy the free doctor visits.
Bank Account: You can sort this out before you leave. I went through the HSBC, so did some of my other friends. You call into a branch, get some application forms, fill them out, go into a branch to return them, they set up you account while your there, and you have the choice of them posting your debit card (like eftpos card) to your UK address, or to home. The account I was eligible for is the passport account, which is for non-HSBC customers. It lasts for one year, fees only £6 a month, and after 1 year you get upgraded to a normal long term bank account. Some people are eligible for a proper account right away - so do investigate.
NI Number: This is the National Insurance Number, which, like the IRD number, you need to have and need to provide to be paid when you get a job. I cant remember now which contact I went to for this, but check with the HSBC or google it, thats how I found out. I recommend you apply for it at home before you leave, and get your number either sent to your UK address if you have one, or home, if youll get it in time.
TOP TIP:: You need absolutely every bit of paper work you can get your hands on to apply for things in the UK. Of course you will take photocopies of all your important documents - but you need name, ID, proof of address etc - so much easier to apply for everything you can in NZ where you have bank statemtns/bills/letters with your home address and get things posted there before you leave. If you apply for things once you get to the UK, you get stuck in the loop of needing a job to work out where you live, you cant apply for anything until you get an address, and round it goes. Having all important paperwork for everything was the most important thing to do and having applied for everything I could from home made it even easier. Ive heard of countless people getting stuck in the beurocratic loop of applications here and you dont need that. Hit the ground running!!!
Other important bits:
Clothes: Dont do what i did and take 10 singlets, 5 tshirts and 5 summer tops with you. It will never be warm like NZ. I have not worn any of them apart from the 5 days of summer. What you need is any warm gloves, scarves, woollen jerseys, possum fur/wool socks, etc. And thermals. Everyone here lives in thermals. Coats are the staple diet of clothing items over here, no-one ever seems to go anywhere without one. Make sure you bring clothes/tops that you can layer. bring a couple of basic glassons tops and singlets that can go under some warmish cardigans or warm tops. Dont bother with more than 2 pairs of shorts, youll only get a couple of wears out of them. Take 1 skirt or 1 shorts so you can wear them out on the town with a pair of warm tights underneath. Thats the other thing, in autumn/winter, everyone wears tights. And NZ's stockings are not warm enough. no way hosee. 70 odd denier is the going rate over here. Dont bother buying stockings or coats until you get here, because a) no new zealand coat will be warm enough, and besides you can buy an £8 coat from Primark that is really good, and b) they make clothes for the weather over here c) you can buy 3pack of warm tights for £3. As for summer, there isnt enough of one to mention it. bring a tshirt and skirt or shorts. And if you bring sunnies or sunscreen with you, you will take them home untouched.
Water. Be prepared for your clothes to shrink or just feel awful because the water here is hard and our clothes from home get a battering. So does your skin and hair. All appliances need to be de-scaled regularly (imagine what were ingesting!) and the water takes a while to get used to. I had difficulty actually drinking tap water for the first 4 months because of the taste/whats in it, i couldnt stand it. i lived on bottled water. but you get used to it.
Umbrella. It is a fact you will need one. I brought 1 over with me so i had it ready in my bag for the eventuality of rain. It broke, but luckily there are 50,000 umbrella outlets, including most tube stations, all boots stores, and many shops. The 3 biggest selling items in this city have got to be coats, A-z's, and umbrellas.
A-Z. Ahh the old A-Z London map book. One thing I do recommend is buying a London A-Z (pocket size) and keep it in your handbag (or manbag) because you will need it. Oh yes you will. Everyone, even londoners, know the virtues of the A-Z.
TFL. Thats transport for london. Get familiar with the website, http://www.tfl.gov.uk/. It has all the tube, train, bus, tram, info and timetables and maps you could want. Even all the londoners I know use the tfl journey planner to find the best way from/to somewhere.
Tube. You will learn very quickly that there's more to the tube than just hopping on and hopping off. People have devised countless strategies about which carriage to get on and where to stand on the platform to get off presicely by the exit or to get a seat. Do you know theres a map that shows you where to stand/wait to acheieve getting the premium entry & exits? There are ways to devise who is getting off the train next, and how to let them off and get there seat all in one swift move. There are ways to take seats like someone taking the parking space that you were waiting for. There are many other unwritten rules for things to not do on the tube. If you read a paper, fold it in 4 to read it. Do not read it expanded out in full. Theres no room for that. Bags go on your lap, feet go on the floor. Move right down inside the cars! Let the passengers off first! Don't push. just makes you look like a jerk. Offer you seat to those less able to stand. And on the escalators, the right is for standing, the left is for walking! Those are my top tips. Hope they help!
And remember, during your stay in Britain, there is to be NO eye contact. Thank you, and stand clear of the doors - this train is about to depart.
(ED: thanks to those of you who came it was a real pleasure having you there :)
Saturday 7th Feb - Waitangi Day! And when your in London this means pub crawl day. By the time i crawled out of bed at 10ish there were a few hardy souls already beating the paths of london in their kiwi flag capes.. i did some washing - way more important than a pub crawl of course.. :P I had to go to laundromat because our washing machine broken again.
Anyway so I catch up to our crew just after gloucester road, and we have a few beers as we wander through the streets with the many other drunk kiwi's dressed as the 4 square staff, sheep, and some mullets in stubbies and jandels. we got lost about kensington somewhere and ended up walking quite far in the wrong direction and got to chelsea?. so a couple of us caught a bus straight to the Shaftsbury Ave Walkabout and joined the rest of the group who'd all gone there too. We all decided to skip the westminster haka because a) you can't see the haka through the crowds anyway.. b) people were dragged into the mud and that wasnt really our thing, c) because we were lost and missed it anyway d) we were freezing cold. All good reasons. So we had burger and chips and spent the night dancing and singing away to kiwi classics, such as crowded house and the haka.
There were a few moments on Waitangi Day where I felt proud to be kiwi - such as walking down the road amogst fellow kiwis informing curious tourists that its waitangi day and that we are kiwis... and hearing kiwi slang.. Then there were moments where i looked at some kiwi people and thought omg am I one of them.. where people were talking and acting 'rough as guts' and of course the boozed up meat market of the walky is enough to turn anyone right off!!
A few of us will be going to a civilised british pub for a quiet pint and some nice conversation in the future, where drink stays in the glasses and not on the floor and where people are generally a bit more well behaved.
But I do have to says there is something about the loud, jovial atmosphere of the walky, complete with rugby on the big screen and great music going all night and a dance floor so you can have a good dance, that keeps drawing us all back there time after time.. :)
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
The snow almost ground the country to a halt. I've mentioned most of london transport wasnt running. Many roads all over england were closed. Snow plows doing their best to clear drifts of up to a metre deep out in the country. All schools closed on monday, most still closed tuesday and some closed mid week too as further heavy snow which hit the country for round two on weds & thurs. Gritting trucks working 24/7 to get enough grit down on the roads so that they were accessable. There were/are problems that some councils only have enough grit for 3 days more snow as of thursday when it was still snowing in places. Footpaths remained covered in snow/ice largely until weds, when in london at least, the snow had stopped and they were able to clear it. On Tuesday the snow had turned to slush or ice where it was compacted by lots of foot traffic. Getting to work was slippery and hard going. It was like walking through a giant slushy and then walking on an ice rink. Hearing the sound of crunching snow and cracking ice under your feet is quite satisfying, but only when you have footwear that keeps your feet dry!! Most commuters donned gumboots or hiking boots for the whole week (not me as I dont own any. my heels acted as ice picks) The slush and ice hung around till friday as temperatures didnt get above 2-3degrees. It was only on friday that the ice and snow had been removed by council workers from all public accessways, peices of grass, footpaths, etc and heaped into piles. Some snow is still sitting in little piles all over the city now, its just been so cold. We still have big balls of ice that was our snowman sitting on our lawn.
People did make the most of the snow though, and on Monday there were snowmen galore all over the city, some people were snowboarding and sledding, others just playing in the snow. The newspapers and news were full of snow updates and snow photos - also lots of blogs online mentioning the snow and putting up private pics aswell. The news had lovely stories about neighbours who had never met that were building snowmen together. 1/5th of the city apparantly had the day off on monday, and cost englands economy £1.5billion or something. It hasnt snowed like that in over 20years apparantly. so it is a day to remember. Apparantly the coldness is set to stay till the end of the month. So yay for that.
Monday, 19 January 2009
I think, in general, in the UK, customer facing staff have not heard of the concept 'customer service' -in the same way that banks and hotels have not heard of 'refurbishment'. I have been to banks, post offices, the DHL courier head office, retail stores, rung call centres, and of course my doctors offices.
Not one person has ever given me the impression they care at all, or have even noticed me while I was being served by them. You could be wearing a miners helmet and a stocking on your head and they would'nt notice. Enough I say of those pesky helpful, caring, smiling, staff back home - over here you have the pleasure of being completely ignored and not be helped wherever you go! Never be asked anything by a retail assistant ever again! Wait 15 mins for help! When you do get seen too, enjoy unsatisfactory help. And you will never be looked at in the eye. Never. Now that's freedom, innit??
So anyway the other day I went to the doctors (A nice 10mins early). The receptionist waddled slowly and reluctantly to the counter, without looking up from the desk she said to me 'how can i help'. I said hello, looked at the lady, smiled, said my name and who i was there to see. She went tap tap on the computer, then said 'go upstairs and turn to your left'. Then without looking at me walked away and left me to wonder why I was being sent upstairs? am i going straight into the docters office? what was up there? I walk up and follow the corridoor of 1950's wooden doors and old carpet and come to - surprise -another reception area! OK I didnt know this existed, this must be where she was sending me. So again I said hello, looked at the lady, smiled, said my name and who i was there to see. She went tap tap on the computer, and said '2 minutes' and then continued to chat to a mother and her child at reception while I was left to ponder her ultra short and meaningless response. I went and sat down on a chair and waited 15mins while the receptionist carried on chatting and people came in and out. Eventually she said 'amanda jeffs'. I got up and looked at her for instructions. She said 'down the corridoor and too the left' and then answered the phone. Armed with my 3rd set of vague instructions, I walked slowly along the corridoor wondering where I was meant to be going. I thought, maybe the doctors name will be on the door, and I can find him that way. No. So I go back to reception and ask her 'sorry I dont know where I'm going, what room is it'. She said 'room number 6' so I went back round the corner and knocked on the door. The doctor yells 'come in'! To my relief I'm greeted by a rare british item- a jovial, happy, helpful, informative british person!! And a doctor at that! I left happy but with a belief that people dont respect free things - free giveaways, free fliers, free lunch- the NHS ... so I think you get what you pay for in terms of health too. These people arent being handed cash by us when we visit so they give as much as we give - £0. For all the benefit of free health care I think you get what you pay for and really respect something and care for something more when you pay for it. As with everything. For now I've got a nest egg savings account going so I can afford to visit the doctor when I get back. So until I return home, Ill enjoy the free doctors visits.
*Disclaimer - Now, dont come marauding about my house, I know plenty of british and most are funny and really cool people - it is for the purpose of this blog only choose to pick on the worst of them*
Saturday, 10 January 2009
Last weekend it was -9 degrees in various parts of the country - has been -10 and -12 during the week in various parts. So last sat when it was about -9, the boys decided it was a perfect day to have a bbq in our garden.. sure?! so they set the fire going in the bbq and we all donned scarves and hats and jackets and went and sat around the bbq with our beers and ate lots of juicy steak and chicken... mm. eventually we started to feel the cold (it was freezing) and went inside.
Then on tuesday it snowed! there was a 5-10mm thickness of snow in golders green and out of town there was an inch or more. around the country, bodies of water everywhere froze over.
I went for a walk through hamstead heath today, and everything was white.. it snowed faintly last night and it has been lightly snowing on and off today, so the ground was white with ice and a layer of powder, and the trees were all dusted white. It was so pretty. The ponds are even more frozen than last week, if thats possible. Ducks walking along the ice were slipping and sometimes fell over. It was pretty funny. One small pond was completely frozen and people were walking all over it. The air had a quiet, almost misty feel to it. Hardly anyone was outside and the park was almost deathly quiet. I was outside for two hours, and it was -3 degrees. By the end I was freezing and could barely move or talk. It was exhilerating though!!! and just a little bit crazy considering i wasnt really properly dressed for the temperature. ahwell. apparantly the cold spell will be easing up shortly